There are an estimated 30,000 locksmiths across the United States, but locksmiths have been around since the start of human civilization. It is in fact one of the oldest professions in the world, going back to the days of the Egyptian and Babylonian Civilizations over 4,000 years ago.
The locks back then were based on a primitive technology and were made of wood, not metal. Yet, the mode of operation of those locks was the same as that of the locks of today. Basically, they had a number of pins, which could only be locked or unlocked with a wooden key. The wooden keys looked pretty much like the toothbrushes of today, only, they were made from wood.
Locksmithing really grew as a profession in the medieval era, as metals were widely used to make a number of products – weapons, machinery and locks as well. The locks of the 10th century, for example, were quite secure and reasonably efficient. It was during this time that locksmiths came into their own and were seen as serious professionals.
Locksmiths of the past were craftsmen who worked as blacksmiths and made locks as a side job. In fact, the word “locksmith” itself comes from the word blacksmiths – blacksmiths who made locks.
The big change in the locksmith industry came during the industrial revolution, which began in the 18th century in the Britain. No longer was it necessary to get handcrafted locks made by skilled individuals. There were machines that mass produced the locks.
It was during this time that locksmiths made the move from lock making to lock repair and replacement. They were no longer manufacturers of locks; the locks were made by large companies. Their job was now to install the factory-made locks and repair and maintain them. Key making, not lock making, became one of the chief responsibilities of locksmiths during this period.
Locksmiths of today are highly skilled professionals capable of working with complex lock and key systems such as electronic locks or keyless entry systems. They are even required to have programming skills – knowledge of transponder key programming is one of the important job requirements of automotive locksmiths of today.
With new changes in lock and key systems, such as “smart” locks, the demand for locksmiths will only grow. But only the best trained and highly skilled locksmiths can survive in the profession and make good money from it. There is no room for low-skilled or non serious locksmith technicians anymore. This is the biggest change seen in the locksmith profession over the last decade and a half.
Finally, did you know that some of the most famous historical figures of the last 4,000 years have been locksmiths, in one way or another? The almighty and all-powerful Pharaoh Khafre (c. 2550 BC) of Egypt, the man whose face has been made immortal by the Great Sphinx, was a locksmith himself, and a very talented one.
King Louis XVI (1754-1793) of France, the unfortunate husband of Marie Antoinette, who will be remembered as the last king of France before he was guillotined, was a locksmith too.
The great magician of the early 20th century, Harry Houdini, actually trained to be a professional locksmith in his youth. He was a real genius with locks and keys; there has never been anyone like him.